What's the Real Value of a Creative Studio in the Wake of WFH?

Embracing the rethink of our physical space

On Tuesday, March 17, the music and conversation in our studio slowly subsided, as each of us decamped to our homes. 

Computers, screens, chairs followed, and by Monday, March 22, we were coming to terms with a new kind of working in dusty corners of our houses. Seeing familiar faces, but at more acute and unforgiving angles. Our communal Friday lunch a distant and now somehow outrageous memory. It was the acoustic experience, and the new demands on conversation etiquette, that took the most time to get used to—to resist the urge to finish our colleagues' sentences or to excitedly elaborate on an idea which (we now know) has the effect of shutting down the flow of any meaningful conversation.

Cut to today. What felt like a serious compromise in mid-March now feels entirely viable two months later. So much so that as we begin to plan a gradual re-opening of our studio, the immediate rush back that we anticipated just isn't there. The assumed role of our studio needs a rethink to actively entice everyone back—to earn its place in people's lives again.

Breaking down our working experience into its constituent parts, it's clear that a big chunk of that time is spent meeting and talking—and it has now been proven that it is perfectly possible to replicate this remotely. With tools like Miro, even more complex collaborative creative sessions can be run online. So, to consider the role of a physical studio, we need to look at which components of our work experience can't be replicated online? Why are we not just dismissing our studio as a relic?

At Here, we have always been advocates for the importance of tangible physical experiences as a counterpoint to our digital existence—time spent looking at screens—and in the last few weeks this dynamic has gone into hyperdrive. Assuming we will continue to use remote working technologies, the studio should more assertively become a creative stimulant—or more than that, a space designed for digital decompression. An experience that Thomas Heatherwick calls "Hyper Physical" in an article about the future of office design.

So, more than ever, the studio needs to be a space that uplifts us with its design and beauty—that justifies its existence by enriching our lives. A space that celebrates spontaneous conversation untainted by digital glitches and encourages more nuanced human communication like "the subtle affirmations of our humanity" that Cal Newport talks about in his New Yorker article "Why Remote Work Is So Hard—and How It Can Be Fixed." It needs to be a generous and safe space that encourages disruptive and spontaneous creative work with the analog tools that will differentiate and rebalance us from our time spent in pixels: books, pens, paints, inks, paper and jokes. In many ways this new model relates back to a very old model—something much more like the idealistic art college experience. 

And why not open this experience up to the clients we work with? With fewer people in the studio at any given time, as restrictions are relaxed it could become possible to dedicate more space to productive collaborative work with our clients in our studio.

One clear observation from this experience is that it has suited some people more than others—the introverts among us are seemingly flourishing in isolation—and in many ways this is a moment where ideas of self–realization begin to translate to our choices about how to work. We are being taught to understand when we get the most out of focused work at home and when we will get more out of communal work at the studio. 

It strikes us that this is a lesson that will be hard to unlearn and step back from, and as a consequence, we can safely assume that the role of the studio will never quite be the same again. Stripped of the more methodical aspects of work, it could actually become much more exciting.

Profile picture for user Mark Paton
Mark Paton
Mark Paton is creative partner at Here Design.

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